FOR ELVIS FANS ONLY ... CD REVIEWS by Jim VanHollebeke
RIO… the Voice of Elvis
LIVE! A TRIBUTE TO THE KING (2003)
and THE GOSPEL SPECIAL, LIVE (2005) First, a quiz:
ELVIS IMITATOR or ELVIS TRIBUTE ARTIST. Are they the same??
No, not quite.
The Elvis imitator is not always an Elvis tribute artist (ETA) and a tribute artist is not necessarily an imitator. An imitator does an Elvis act or routine singing Elvis songs and wearing an outfit or costume that says he is supposed to be Elvis. He might be very talented…or again he may have no talent whatsoever. In fact most Elvis imitators sadly fall into the latter variety. A (legitimate) TRIBUTE ARTIST is an artist in the true sense of the word. He not only can sing but can 'bring the man back' in a complimentary and positive way. The tribute artist may or may NOT wear "the outfit". He might not even perform on stage (if his main function is recording tributes for fans to enjoy at home). A true Elvis Tribute artist HAS to be good because he IS an artist. He sounds like Elvis ...and most importantly he REMINDS people of the legend that Presley IS. Also, he may or MAY NOT sing Elvis songs. As an ETA, he may sing original or other people's material thereby giving us (the fans) NEW ELVIS MUSIC, if you will. That is part of the ETA's function ...giving us NEW ELVIS MUSIC. Thus, Ronnie McDowell and Doug Church would BOTH be Elvis Tribute Artists but only Doug would be considered an imitator as well.
Conversely, there are many imitators who are not tribute artists. I will decline to mention names or further explain…presuming you know what I mean. There is a common thread among imitators and tribute artists. Nearly all of them love Elvis. They're not competing with or trying to replace him. Perhaps they want to BE him…but only like every kid wants to "be" his big brother. They love Elvis. You can see it and feel it unmistakably. No other entertainer in the history of MANKIND has inspired such a phenomenon. Experts have speculated as to just HOW MANY 'ELVII' there are WORLDWIDE ...but no one has the answer. Hell, there are several being BORN as I write! And, as far as who is THE BEST …that again is very difficult to define. Every time...EVERYTIME I've heard someone declare that his or her guy is "the best", I've been disappointed upon seeing or hearing the person in question. So I don't pay attention to that kind of braying. Unless of course, it is me who is braying. Which brings us to the meat of this article.
Ladies and gentlemen…allow me to introduce you to RIO, "The Voice of Elvis" and arguably, the best damned Elvis Tribute Artist of them all! Parenthetically, I must admit I seldom buy an Elvis imitator record anymore. After over 25 years of trying to collect every Elvis soundalike on wax...I just burned out. The whole genre began to sound like Elvis imitators imitating ...Elvis imitators. BUT I recently visited this guy RIO's website and sampled his CD's.
And ya know what... after checking a few songs from his LIVE IN CONCERT CD, I was just blown away. TOTALLY. I mean he just brought Elvis back and suddenly I was listening to 'the voice of Elvis'. Fresh. NEW. With different orchestra. Sounding great. The feel. The soul. Good-God-a-mighty.
So I bought two albums.First was RIO, LIVE! A TRIBUTE TO THE KING.
Basically an Elvis concert but twenty five years after Elvis has 'left the building'! Still... an Elvis concert it certainly IS. With new band and harmony singers. Recorded superbly. Live & on stage with excellent interpretation of original arrangements. I feel like I'm there, listening...NO ...WATCHING. I can SEE it. And that voice. It is Elvis. So SHOCKING that an 'imitator' can get this close! "See See Rider" starts it off. GEEZ. I can't get over that vocal. And all those little changes. Elvis always made tiny adjustments to his concerts. His audiences expected their favorite songs...which caused a minimization of new material and a lot of song repetition during those final touring years. But Presley kept it interesting with unpredictibility, what with changing lyrics, refining melody and even clowning a bit. The result was innovational and fresh while the fans kept getting their favorites. But a slightly different rendition everytime. Here, RIO attacks this challenging concept with gusto, delivering a successful and believable recreation of a performance that, til now, never existed! All this, and convincingly like Elvis. Say. This is fun! Too soon the song is over and "I Got a Woman" is upon us. Again, the authority of the track is exhilarating. A second big shock comes when the song ends and Elvis starts talking. WHAT?! He's speaking in German!
It's NOT Elvis.
It's not even in America! Oh. WAIT. OK. Now he's speaking English. Just like Elvis, too! And singing again, "Blue suede Shoes".
Yes. It IS ELVIS!!
Oh, who cares!
All dis-belief totally suspended, we are lost in this new 21st century Elvis Presley Concert and the new Elvis is amazing. Presley's untimely death left a giant gap in so many of our lives. And doggone it... it does feel GOOD to have the hole filled, if temporarily with this magic and surreal event.
"Love Me" is next and suddenly it's Hawaii, 1973. As the song ends with RIO's little laugh of exuberance, I'm dumfounded at it's natural feel and uncanny resemblance, once again to the man from Memphis. "All Shook up" follows with the familiar Presley charisma followed by a seemingly unplanned spiritual tune, "I John". Wow. And with a nice 'I Need Yer Loving Everyday' ending.
Another unlikely Presley 'live' song is "Why Me Lord" complete with a nicely executed send-up to the talents of back up singer JD Sumner as well! Now this is why Gospel music was Elvis' favorite. Feel the enthusiasm. Very catchy!
The "Little Sister/Get Back" medley is a great rocker complete with some vocal histrionics that certainly must be an accompaniment to some very lively karate moves!
The next three, "Sweet Caroline", "In the Ghetto" and "Runaway" harken to a younger Elvis enjoying his triumphant 1969 return to Vegas. Damn. I still can't believe the voice! But it's the little things too...the laughs, the gaffs, energetic shouts ("HIT it, Baby!") that make this thing so unique. This is no imitation. SO natural and real... it's scary.
"Heartbreak Hotel" shows us the sensual and growling Elvis ...uh RIO ....er whoever. GREAT! Now "Burning Love". This one does not reach the level of perfection I have been describing. It's good, of course. RIO, at his worst, sounds like Elvis when he's not at his best (and like Elvis, he rarely makes the dip)
One of my all time favorites, "It's Midnite" brings back the magic with a very wrenching and dramatic reading. The once obscure "Little Less Conversation" is given the concert treatment. Once you've heard THIS rendition you're gonna want to hear it again and again. Think of alternate take. Add some gospel and some energetic jamming. Now toss in laughter and wild enthusiasm and you have the recipe that can only mean 'Elvis in concert'.
"Way Down" and "What Now My Love" are two of the most difficult songs for tribute artists to recreate the Elvis feel. Naturally they pose no problem for this guy. Especially "What Now My Love" and that eerily familiar vocal. The dynamic operettic ending is right on target. Feel the chills dance up my spine! LISTEN. He's doing the ending AGAIN! If that ain't enough, he goes into a haunting and emotionally draining "Unchained Melody". It just doesn't get any better friends.
"Johnny B. Goode" brings us back down to normal 'earth orbit' with a rocking, good-time feel followed by another 'bonus' with the iconic "Viva Las Vegas". Yeah. Youthful and vibrant as ever.
The traditional "Can't Help Falling" ends the show.
Did I mention the exeptional stereo of this recording? If you want to go back, if you love Elvis... if your heart can stand returning to the present after the soaring joyful experience that is RIO's LIVE TRIBUTE TO THE KING....IF you only buy ONE Elvis imitator CD...
THIS IS THE ONE!
Visit the website and listen for yourself. RIO, THE VOICE OF ELVIS: www.riothevoiceofelvis.de As I mentioned, I bought TWO CDs. The next one is also a LIVE concert...
RIO's GOSPEL SPECIAL (2005).
I'm nuts about good Southern Gospel music so I knew I'd be in for yet another treat.
The concert kicks off with a jumping version of "Working on a Building" done much as Elvis might have updated it had he still been with us. Throughout the number you feel the Elvis joy and enthusiasm. Next a song that has me blown sideways, originally done by Cat stevens, "Morning Has Broken". It here becomes purely and simply, A NEW ELVIS SONG. The guy is good...and God bless him. I can picture Elvis in one of his informal rehearsals doing this song. It makes me wonder if perhaps he did. But ...that FEELING. Wonderful, dramatic and of course inspirational!
This is what the ELVIS TRIBUTE ARTIST was intended for: Bring back Elvis. Experience him, if only for a few moments. And create NEW Elvis music!
I find myself truly inspired. I'll add this song to my own repertoire. I must sing it tomorow at our local honky tonk!!
And who would have thought? 'Morning has Broken'. An ELVIS song!
"Peace in the Valley" follows with as much timeless conviction and freshness as it had fifty years ago. We harken back to the young Elvis singing his heart out on the Ed Sullivan Show. Gosh. How can RIO consistantly pick MY favorite songs!
"Five hundred Miles". Another song that I don't believe Elvis ever did...but here it is, and nicely done. "Amazing Grace" and "Put Your Hand in the Hand" deliver more of that familiar Gospel side of the Presley mystique. The revival style masterfully delivered invites you to 'put those hands together'!
"If Tomorow Never Comes", is a change of pace from the general theme. It is, however, a perfect choice for a song never performed by the king yet so perfectly 'made for him'.
"So High" and "If the Lord Wasn't Walking by My side" get us back on track with their bouncing spiritual rhythms and of course, the uncanny Elvis ad-libbing and playful execution. There he goes. He's got me laughing right along! When RIO laughs, I hear Presley laugh - not an imitation - but natural and heartwarming.
"In the Ghetto" follows. Sobering and soulful. Rio is quite serious on this tune and the 'message' is as powerful as it was in the 60s. The opera styled ending is surprising, yet in character. Very Elvisy(even though he never did it this way).
"Unchained Melody" Presley-style, is compelling as always. You can feel The Man sharing (and baring) his inner being. Then the melodramatic "You'll Never Walk Alone" and a sincere version of "Crying in the Chapel". They don't rise to Elvis' but certainly beat out most other artists versions.
"More than I Can say" and "River Lady" give us another glimpse of the Elvis that might have been. Anyone who has heard any of the RCA rehearsal material from the 70's will easily be able to picture Presley trying these tunes out. Good stuff!
"Lead Me, Guide Me" and "I John" return us once again to the traditional Gospel material that Elvis loved so dearly. And as before, the informal style is very effective. Absolutely 'a rock-a-doo' and I can't get enuff of this stuff. Next, a somewhat different version of "Why Me Lord". Here we have a female lead on verses joined by the feverishly passionate Elvis vocal.
The following song, "I Got a Feeling in my Body" is probably my top pick here(although "Morning Has Broken" is in there too). For me, it has everything. RIO's in top Presley form as he belts out the Gospel-rocker with perfect conviction and embellishment. I remember begging RCA's Joan Deary to release this great Elvis album track as a single shortly after Elvis' death. She finally did so about a year later but it was stripped of sweetning and I felt as though I (and Elvis) had been betrayed. RIO treats the song with the respect and energy that Elvis might have done in revival style and it's a joy to listen to. Audio of RIO's "Feelin' in My Body" can be sampled at: www.riothevoiceofelvis.de
The album ends with another special song, "Oh Happy Day". I've only heard a bootlegged record of Elvis doing this song in Vegas some thirty five years ago. The record was an amateur recording and the sound quality was horrible. Elvis was practically buried. The mix was so garbled that I was barely able to discern his voice. Yet what I could hear still sounded great to me. How I wished I could have heard the thing professionally recorded. And now, thanks to RIO, I have the next best thing. Excellent. I couldn't have asked anyone, including Elvis, to do a better job!
So that's it. RIO's GOSPEL SPECIAL CD. Of course, RIO is not really 'the best damned Elvis Tribute Artist of them all'. That is too subjective a description…and insulting to the other truly great Elvis performers. And there ARE some truly great ones (difficult though they may be to find). But I will say this; there is no one better than RIO. He does his job. He returns Elvis to us with the voice, innovations and personality. It's real. From the heart. It's RIO/Elvis. The artist. The music. And more than the songs, it's Elvis…THE PERSON. He's back. Thank you RIO. Thank you VERY MUCH!
RIO a true TRIBUTE to ELVIS!